Justin Slater had a hot start to the 2014-2015 NCA Tour, but it was the finish that was never in doubt as Slater capped his 2nd NCA Tour title, with his 5th Ontario Singles Championship.
29 players gathered at the St. Jacobs Mennonite Church for the final stop of the 7th National Crokinole Association season. The event is often one of the most competitive as many of the best players, nearing peak form, are in attendance. Mix that with the final push for the end of the year rankings and it is a great tournament.
The preliminary round split the field into 3 groups, with advancement to afternoon pools on the line. Clare Kuepfer (40 points) and John Harvey (39) were barely edged out by Rex Johnston (41) for direct entry into Pool A, despite Harvey scoring the group-high 81 20s.
Tom Johnston went sleepless the night before due to work requirements, but managed to join Ab Leitch, Robert Bonnett and Ray Beierling as the Group B contenders qualifying for Pool A.
While Group C was highlighted by the high score of Justin Slater with 65 of a possible 72 points, there was an incredible 3-way tie between Jon Conrad, Brian Simpson and Eric Miltenburg for the final spot in Pool A. While each player tied each other in their head-to-head games, Conrad would be given the final spot due to 20s.
After a fantastic lunch, the money was on the line as the afternoon play began.
In Pool C, Barry Kiggins had the high 20 score with 58, but failed to make the final, finishing with 39 points for 3rd place. Howard Martin would take the top seed with 47 points, and Roger Vaillancourt would join him in the final with 44. The final was very tight, with Roger Vaillancourt needing a tiebreaker to win the first game by a score of 6-4. Vaillancourt would then grab the second game of the best of 3 to take the C final.
The battle to reach the Pool B final was also very tight. Clare Kuepfer would be the unfortunate 3rd place finisher (40 points), falling behind Reuben Jongsma (42) and Brian Simpson (47). Jongsma had won their round robin meeting 6-2, but Brian Simpson would get the better of a very competitive final, winning 6-4, 5-3.
In Pool A action, Ray Beierling had an extremely solid round robin and finished atop the standings with 46 points. Justin Slater sealed the NCA Tour title when he earned the 2nd seed with 42 points, just ahead of Tom Johnston who continued to have a great day of competition. London tournament champion, Ab Leitch, took the final playoff spot with 37 points. It was that which showed how tight the round robin was, as the 4th place score only earned one point over the 50% score of 36.
In the semifinals, Ray Beierling would get the better of his Varna teammate, Ab Leitch, by a score of 5-3, 6-2. The semifinal between Tom Johnston and Justin Slater was a see-saw affair. Tom Johnston won the first game in a tiebreaker, 6-4. The second game would also go to a tiebreaker, but Slater would fight off elimination to tie the match. In the third game, Slater took over, winning 6-0 to advance to the final.
So with the NCA standings solidified with Justin Slater 1st and Ray Beierling 2nd, the two squared off in the final. Justin Slater dominated the first game, but Ray Beierling flipped the script in the second and the Ontario Singles final headed to a decisive third game.
The first round was played to a tense tie, but Slater would remain focussed and win the game 5-1, to claim his NCA record-setting 4th straight Ontario Singles Championship.
So the 2014-2015 NCA Tour standings were finalized. Nathan Walsh finished a career-high 3rd place, after a year in which he accumulated 4 different 2nd place finishes. Ray Beierling finished 2nd on the Tour, in what was one of his best Tours, that included a winning streak of three consecutive tournaments.
And Justin Slater won the Tour for his second time (after sharing the title with Ray Beierling in 2010), highlighted by winning the World Championship Doubles event, the Brucefield tournament and the Ontario Singles Championship, as well as a runner-up finish in the WCC Singles event.
So 7 seasons for the NCA Tour are now a part of history. The focus now clearly shifts to the 2015 World Crokinole Championships, and the start of a new NCA Tour.